It was author Malorie Blackman who said, “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” Our staff at Habitat Chicago is doing just that. We hope this diverse list of summer must-reads will encourage you, too, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and consider the impact you can make in your communities.


Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

Recommended by Elizabeth Walker (Associate Director, Programs)

Would you be willing to accept a pay cut to not have a female boss? Would you give a waiter a smaller tip because he’s black? Nope. No way. Not a chance! All of the participants in the studies included in Banaji's and Greenwald's Blindspot said no, also. Yet it turns out that most of the men and women in the studies would – unconsciously. We all like to think of ourselves as good people capable of judging situations and people fairly, but Blindspot will make you check those assumptions.

Banaji and Greenwald present the results of many association tests on widely ranging themes in order to unravel the misconception that prejudice is based primarily on animosity. Whether it’s race, gender, age, profession, sexuality, etc., our unconscious reasoning has been shaped by pervasive positive and negative associations, which can (and does) easily impact our actions. This book is a critical read for understanding these biases better and working towards bringing them to the front of our minds – an important pursuit if we want to count ourselves as responsible and fairness-promoting members of our complex and interconnected society.



The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism by Yuval Levin; and Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg

Recommended by Jason Brown (Construction Manager)

Building on an emerging literary theme that found a mainstream audience in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Levin discusses the “atomization” of our society which emphasizes the individual over the community and consequently “hollows out” the moderating institutions between the Federal government and the individual – civic, religious, and state/local institutions on which our country has historically relied. Borrowing a phrase from Andrew Carnegie to describe the libraries he was building throughout the country, Klinenberg offers a partial solution to the problem of disconnected communities by suggesting that our built infrastructure can be designed to reinforce neighborhoods and communities (or not). How we design and integrate affordable housing, community spaces, transportation, and more all affects the resilience of a community. Read together, these books offer a diagnosis and prescription for how to reinforce our communities and local institutions to improve quality of life.



No Small Plans by Chris Lin and Gabrielle Lyon

Recommended by Shannon Lees (Partnerships Associate)

No Small Plans is a graphic novel that follows the lives of three Chicago teens: one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future. Each chapter takes place in a different time period (1928, 2017, and 2211) and follows each student’s adventure through the city of Chicago and the prevailing urban issues of that era. This novel brings urban planning alive and strives to get Chicago’s youth thinking about how the city has been designed historically and how the city could (and should) be designed moving forward.

Though the novel is intended for teens, it can challenge any Chicagoan to think about who the public space belongs to and how urban design impacts all of us. Having read this in 2019, I was most struck by the chapter set in 2017. In it, Natalie’s family – longtime Logan Square residents – are being evicted from their home and are facing the drastically increased cost of living in their home neighborhood. The chapter deals with issues of housing insecurity, the rising cost of rent, and gentrification – issues that bring many people to Habitat Chicago.

The Chicago Architecture Center published No Small Plans in conjunction with their 50th anniversary and their new initiative to promote civic engagement. The CAC has plans to distribute 30,000 copies for free to Chicago teens over the next few years. This book reaffirms my ideal that individuals can make an impact in their public spaces, be it for better or worse, and I hope that this will inspire all residents of Chicago to feel the same.



Becoming by Michelle Obama

Recommended by Katie Clendenning (Volunteer Programs Manager)

Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, offers a reminder that the often-negative narrative we hear of the Southside of Chicago is not the full story to be told. Becoming is broken into 3 sections – “Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us,” and “Becoming More.” In “Becoming Me,” Mrs. Obama talks in detail about her life and growing up in Chicago, her uncle being a Pullman Porter, and her family of 4 living in a small 2nd floor apartment above her aunt and uncle’s apartment. Growing up in South Shore, she watched the community change from a diverse place to a community that people were fleeing. In the remaining sections of the book, this foundation is so clear in the topics she chooses to focus on as she and her platform continue to grow. The strength, poise, and compassion her story shows are encouraging and inspiring, and the obvious connection to Habitat Chicago’s efforts in housing on the Southside make Becoming a unique must-read to understand and support its residents.



All About Love by bell hooks

Recommended by Sheila Sutton (Homeownership Programs Manager)

All About Love is an insightful look into how we, in the US, have removed love as a guiding force for policy and justice. We have excluded it solely to the realm of romantic partnerships. One of my favorite quotes from this book is this:

"Concern for the collective good of our nation, city, or neighbor rooted in the values of love makes us all seek to nurture and protect that good. If all public policy was created in the spirit of love, we would not have to worry about unemployment, homelessness, schools failing to teach children, or addiction..." 

The author goes on to talk about how greed and endless growth are not values that can create a sustainable and loving society. It is these notions that drive my work and life activism.

I believe that justice and love must be interchangeable in meaning, deed, and policy, and I work toward that ideal every day. Greed and endless growth are not values that will sustain our community, species, and planet. I work with this policy of love – that everyone deserves a decent place to live. I do this work because I love my fellow global citizens. I don’t need a thank you, a photo, or even the name of those that we work alongside, because I enact this policy of love that is fulfilling already. Finding love in community and work, and extending that love back to my community, is crucial to me as a person. I am thankful that my role at Habitat Chicago allows me to work in accordance to this policy of love, and I hope others are inspired to act with love as well.



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